For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. [Jesus; Matthew 25: 35,36]
As many of you who have been tracking with me for a while will know one of my main points on this blog has been that Peace without Justice is Oppression. Now I recently heard Justice defined as being motivated by compassion where compassion, which literally means “to suffer with” or “to suffer alongside”, is an emotional response to the absence of Justice. Put simply compassion is the emotion we feel when we are NOT okay with the suffering we see, it causes us to join with the sufferer on an emotional level.
Thanks to our 24hr a day news media, compassion is often felt by and for people on opposite sides of the world whom we will never meet. Regardless of physical distance and vast cultural or political differences we can all relate to suffering. Who can forget the out pouring of compassion we all experienced just 8 months ago when an earthquake practically destroyed the island of Haiti or even today while flood waters cover one fifth of Pakistan?
Natural disasters are a natural fit for compassion but what about man-made disasters?
Canada is currently debating legislation which would make it legal (although still against the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights) for the coast guard to board ships suspected of carrying migrants while still in international waters and keep them from our shores. Why? Because the minute the ship enters Canadian waters the passengers would have the right to petition for refugee status. This could take years to resolve, usually resulting in the granting of permanent residency and a possible increase in human trafficking.
There is a clear double standard at play here. Why are we so willing to spend billions of dollars to help rebuild shattered lives when natural disasters hit while on the other hand crying foul and claiming we can’t afford to help when war and political unrest force people from their homes and quite literally onto our doorstep? The only crime these refugees have committed is having been born into a culture and a time that puts them in the minority surrounded by people who treat them as second (or even third) class citizens. There is no shame and certainly no crime in seeking a better life on the other side of the world. Isn’t that what our ancestors did with they founded this country?
Those of you who follow Canadian news media of course know that I am referring to the recent wave of Tamil refugees to land on the coast of British Columbia. But similar scenarios have also been played out on the coasts of the United States and Australia.
If you don’t want refugees showing up on your shores the way to stop them isn’t through confrontation on the high seas. You instead need to address the living conditions, both social and economic, that they face at home. How many Tamils would be willing make a risky and uncomfortable journey to Canada if it meant leaving a comfortable life and secure future in Sri Lanka?
Unfortunately debating foreign policy while refugees are knocking on your door is kind of like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. They’re here we have to deal with them and Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats, excerpted above from Matthew 25:31-46 is a good one to keep in mind while we do.